Every Sunday morning Robin Roberts's mother rises to turn on ESPN and make sure she has chased all of the Mississippi out of her daughter's voice. Sometimes it creeps back in, and Lucimarian Roberts picks up the phone and calls Robin in Bristol, Conn., to say crisply, "You're getting a little lazy with your i's and your e's again."
Apart from those occasional lapses, Roberts might easily be taken for the product of some tony East Coast school. She presides over ESPN's two-hour Sunday morning programming with a straight-backed confidence. Her utter correctness on the air makes her seem older than 30. What's funny is that Roberts is really a slouchy type who lives in jeans, a former college basketball star who is fifth on the alltime scoring list at Southeastern Louisiana University. Her rather regal bearing on air also causes viewers to overlook another fact about her.
"I'm dealing with this 'Oh, by the way, I happen to be a black woman' thing," she says. "An even more exclusive club."
If Roberts gets her precise elocution from her mother, who chairs the Mississippi State Board of Education, she gets her erect posture from her father, Lawrence, a retired Air Force colonel who was a member of the first black flying group, the Tuskegee Airmen. Lawrence was told as a child that they did not let black men fly airplanes, but he sat in his basement and practiced throttling with a broom handle anyway. Robin Roberts says, "I had a father and a mother who were the first to do this and the first to do that and always getting this award or that award, so I figured, well, shoot, I guess I should be a physicist on the weekend."
She began by working her way through the small radio and television stations of Hammond, Hattiesburg. Biloxi and Nashville. "It was harder getting work in those places than it was at ESPN," she says. "I would be very stupid and naive if I said there weren't assignments I should have gotten and didn't. It's difficult for me to sit here at 30 and say, boy, have I been held back. But by my own standards, I was late getting here."
Frequently the reply to her audition tapes was a simple, soul-deadening "You're not what we're looking for." However, by 1988 she was a sports anchor at Atlanta's WAGA-TV. She spent less than two years there before ESPN summoned her, and she has quickly shown herself to be a comer.
"My ambition is just to stay for a while," she says. "We've never had [a woman] stay before."
Because, well, it's kind of a funny story....
Andrea Joyce claims that her 18-month-old son, Jake, has recently begun patting the life-sized poster of Michael Jordan that hangs on the wall of his nursery and calling it "Mama."
Joyce came late to sportscasting, but she came irrepressibly. She started in television in 1977 as that grand old cliché, a weather bunny. She made $4 an hour watching it snow in Colorado Springs. Then she moved to Wichita for a chance to do news for $11,000 a year. "Almost as much as a waitress," she says.